Mi Mamá Es Machista, Now What?

hispanic adult woman with hoop earrings

I grew up being told, “you can’t do that because you’re a girl,” or “your brother can because he’s a boy,” and I hated hearing that. It’s been something that has tormented me my entire life.

When I was a teenager, my younger brother was allowed to play outside, and I wasn’t. When I went anywhere, I had to be “chaperoned” by my younger male cousins. I grew up frustrated and even wrote research papers about conflicting gender roles in college, but it wasn’t until an interaction that I had recently that I came to the realization that…my mom is a machista.

Can Women be Machistas?

Someone who adheres to machismo believes that women are inferior to men. Women who are machistas don’t have a problem upholding patriarchy, because they believe women are innately inferior to men. They may believe women need to show deference to their spouses because “es el hombre el que manda.”

What does it look like when a woman upholds patriarchy and is a machista? You’ve probably seen it: It looks like women place more value on the opinions, thoughts, and lives of men than women. It is having higher expectations and holding women to different standards than men. It is assuming that men “should” be in charge, because that’s just the way it is. They may believe that women shouldn’t live in the public domain or that male leaders are better than female leaders.

Or they may wonder why women are marching in the streets and ask, “what are you protesting about now? Why are you being so loud?”

They may say, “I’m not going to say anything, porque ‘calladita me veo más bonita.’” Machista women just want you to put your head down and stay in your lane, which is the lane where you’re not a rabble-rouser demanding equal rights.

Women who are machistas listen to men more, they value their opinion more. A woman’s opinion or expertise doesn’t carry the same weight, simply because it is a woman who has it.

If you were raised by a mother who is a machista, you were probably raised in a house that had two sets of rules. You were taught that there were certain things that men can do, and that women cannot. It is two sets of rules for the same action.

For example, one set of rules celebrates when a Latino boy has sex for the first time, but also demands at all costs that their daughters don’t have sex with anyone. Latino boys grow up to be celebrated for their sexual exploits, and Latinas are expected to remain chaste, and not meter la pata, which is a euphemism many of us grew up with meaning “don’t get knocked up.”

If you’re the daughter of immigrants, chances are you have probably heard things growing up about gender roles that made you roll your eyes. Like me, you probably thought that our parents were adhering to and just trying to pass along the societal gender norms that they grew up with.

Our Immigrant Moms – Upholding the Patriarchy

Our mothers’ generation, women who were born and grew up in Latin America, and who immigrated to the United States as adults, think, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, that by nature, they are meant to depend on men, that men should provide for women, that the home is the “woman’s domain” and that men and sons are “de la calle” and women and girls are “de la casa.”

Our immigrant moms have internalized misogyny, and that is what makes them, much of the time unconsciously, prefer men and dislike women who feel like they should have a place in a family or in society that is at equal standing with men. This is a product of the social environment and patriarchal society they grew up in.

I don’t say this lightly because it is hard to admit that the women who have given birth to us live with an unconscious bias and prejudice against women, even if those women are their daughters.

How Religion Influences our Latina Mothers’ View of Women

It may be true that many women of a certain generation uphold the patriarchy and live with internalized misogyny, but for our Latina mothers, it is deeper than simple “patriarchy.” It is also rooted in religion– and the more religious your mother is, the more deeply ingrained these thoughts will be.

Machismo goes hand in hand with marianismo, which has its roots in Roman Catholicism and the Virgin Mary. Marinismo makes us think that we need to live up to the ideal of the Virgin Mary, and strive to be chaste, moral, and willing to give up everything for one’s family– submissiveness, selflessness, chastity, hyper-femininity, and acceptance of machismo in males – these are the characteristics that make marianismo so hurtful to Latinas– and these are all characteristics that so many of us are taught as we are growing up.

So, Latina daughters (that’s you and me) are being compared to the VIRGIN MARY; an impossible standard. Not only is this impossible, it’s also unhealthy and exhausting. It’s exhausting because we are taught to be caretakers and the responsible ones all the time, for everyone.

It’s exhausting because Latina daughters are held to a different standard than Latino sons. We are expected to take care of ourselves, our kids, our own homes, and have enough time and energy to take care of everyone else.

We are expected to look good (because our mamás will also have comments about our physical appearance), and we are expected to have a well-kept house (because our mamás will make comments about that too), and we are expected to have hijos bien portados (kids who are well-behaved) because if they aren’t well behaved, that will surely look bad on you — we are expected to do ALL THE THINGS.

And what are Latinx sons expected to do? Show up and eat the food–maybe take out the trash, or change a light bulb. Even when a husband or son is around, the Latina daughters are expected to “serve them the food.” A Latina mom will expect more of the daughters, because caretaking is “our job,” and we are “nurturers by nature.”

How a New Generation of Latinas can End Machismo

We have to actively fight against our mothers speaking to our children in a way that upholds patriarchal views.

We cringe when we hear the machista words come out of their mouths, especially to our kids, like when they say to our daughters, las niñas no hacen eso (girls don’t do that) or “boys don’t cry/wear pink/insert gender-based stereotype here.” We have to call it out in real-time.

I’ve had to explain that we don’t say, “don’t climb on top of the bed because girls don’t do that.” Rather, we say, “don’t climb on top of the bed because you can fall and hurt yourself.” There shouldn’t be anything gendered about climbing on top of the bed.

We Need to Set Boundaries

I know this is hard because we are taught that we should be respectful and always be “servicial” which basically means being the Latina daughter who takes care of ALL THE THINGS FOR ALL THE PEOPLE.

But it’s time for boundaries y’all.

We can respectfully decline, and respectfully ask other people to step up, or ask others to respect that you are no longer doing x, y, or z. We can be respectful in such a way that we clearly state what we don’t want to pass along to our own children. This is the generation that has the power to break down so many cultural expectations that hurt ourselves and our children, both sons, and daughters.

Latino Sons and Men Need to Step Up — as siblings, spouses, and fathers.

They should take active roles as sons and husbands. If they are dads, they should be leading by example at home. Children will internalize what they see. If a child sees their father doing chores, treating women with respect, and having respectful interactions with women, they will learn that. If they see men and dads valuing the partners in their lives as equals, they will learn to do the same. But if they uphold patriarchy by their actions and words– children will internalize that as well.

We Can Be the Change

There is so much responsibility in raising our children to be the next generation that we must actively work to break down those systems that we grew up with, even if that means upsetting our mamás, or drawing criticism from older generations who may be quick to judge.

I can’t say it will be easy– it will most likely be messy and painful– because it requires us to call out our family members who we love the most. But, for our own sake, for our children, and our children’s children, it’s the kind of work that we must do now so that our kids– both sons and daughters– can live to their fullest potential, and let their entire selves shine without fear of being called “too bossy” or being told to keep quiet.

Even if our mamás get mad at us, it is the work that we must do. If your mother is like mine, she might light a candle and pray the rosary for you, but in the end, it is for their grandchildren that we are breaking these outdated ways that no longer belong in this world– it is a struggle that many of our ancestors fought, and one that we can make a reality.

a photograph of Gloria Anzaldúa with a hat with the sea behind her

In the heart of the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, a beacon of hope and resilience was born. On September 26, 1942, Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa came into a world that wasn't quite ready for her. As a Chicana, a lesbian, and a feminist, Anzaldúa was set to challenge a predominantly Anglo-American and heteronormative society in a way that would forever change the discourse surrounding queer and Chicano identities.

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